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Michelle Rhee frequently says her StudentsFirst lobbying group is a bipartisan organization that backs Democrats and Republicans who support her vision for education: charter schools, vouchers and performance pay for teachers.

But left-leaning critics of the group routinely cast StudentsFirst as a Republican outfit, out of step with the union values many Democrats hold dear. Last month, California Democrats wouldn't let StudentsFirst have a booth at the party's state convention and Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association, gave a speech saying the group is "backed by moneyed interests, Republican operatives and out-of-state Wall Street billionaires dedicated to school privatization and trampling on teacher and worker rights."

Now StudentsFirst is again under attack from the left, with liberal blogs pointing out the group's support for lawmakers who have taken positions against immigrants and gay people. The Daily Kos wrote a few posts last week criticizing StudentsFirst for naming John Ragan, a member of Tennessee's state Legislature, its "reformer of the year." Ragan wrote an unsuccessful bill that would have prevented teachers from talking about homosexuality in the classroom. The Los Angeles County Democratic Party seethed in response.

StudentsFirst put out a statement saying Ragan's bill was "an ill-conceived, harmful piece of legislation" that it did not support. The group said it honored Ragan for his votes to change the teacher tenure system, expand the number of charter schools and bring in more math and science teachers.

But the criticism continued this week, with Salon writing that Rhee's group "stands by anti-gay honoree."

PHOTO CREDIT: Michelle Rhee. in 2010. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo


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